Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, August

Stachytarpheta 'Nectarwand Red', red false vervain, Pipevine Swallowtail. Thanks to Leslie Kuss and the Moth and Butterfly I.D. group on Facebook for their help. Bloom Day.

Hello friends! I’m actually making it to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this month on the actual day! I think it’s the first time this year. Go me!

Tiered borders with Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm,' 'Becky' shasta daisies and 'Bright Eyes' phlox is blooming with abandon from all the rain.
Tiered borders with Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susans, Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ shasta daisies and ‘Bright Eyes’ Phlox paniculata are blooming like crazy from all the rain. Thank goodness for black-eyed Susans! They knit my entire summer garden together.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is sponsored on the 15th of each month by Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens. Hop over there to see what’s blooming in other people’s gardens all over the world.

Rain again fell on Little Cedar today. We had several pop-up showers that didn’t last long, but when I went out to take photos, it was so humid my camera lens kept fogging up. Then, I came inside and realized all my pictures were black.

Arrrgh! No, I did not forget to remove my lens cap. I have no idea what happened, but it’s all fixed now. I ran back outside and took more photos as thunder boomed all around me. I was quicker than a frog sliding into a lily pond except I hopped back inside.

You know I have to include a photo of my favorite rose, 'Carefree Beauty,' a/k/a 'Katy Road Pink.' If this one ever gets Rose Rosette, you'll find me in the closet having a good cry.
You know I have to include a photo of my favorite rose, ‘Carefree Beauty,’ a/k/a ‘Katy Road Pink.’ If this one ever gets Rose Rosette, you’ll find me in the closet having a good cry.

We didn’t get any rain in June and July, but August has been a different story. I think over three inches fell on my little garden, and that makes my heart glad.

Trying to achieve the ever-elusive symmetry.
Trying to achieve the ever-elusive garden symmetry. Nothing in life is perfect. It’s not supposed to be.

I returned from GWA’s annual meeting in Buffalo, NY, last week, and I’ve been playing catch-up in and out of the garden ever since. I filed two columns with two different editors today and last week. I also harvested a ton of vegetables in my potager and cutting garden. I did a little live video on Facebook of the harvest.

As for blooms, because of the rain, we’ve got some. I wandered my overgrown ornamental garden this morning, and I feel rather bad about my neglect of it. After the garden tour, I lost all interest in these beds and borders.

Perennial garden doing its thing. Tightwad Red crapemyrtle in front. Purple crapemyrtles behind.
Perennial garden doing its thing. Tightwad Red crapemyrtle in front. Purple crapemyrtles behind.

I can hear you clucking. I’m sorry. I just worked so hard in it that I lost myself a little. I tried so hard to make it perfect that I forgot why I even garden.

Do you ever do that?

After the tour, I ran off to Garden Bloggers’ Fling and wandered other people’s gardens on tour, grateful that they weren’t mine. When I returned home, I was still tired. I overworked myself, and there’s a lesson, or as my friend, Mary Ann, of Gardens of the Wild, Wild West, would say, a pony in there somewhere. Maybe stop working so hard and trying to be so perfect? Maybe?

(Click on the photos to make them larger.)

I’m happy to say my vegetable and cutting gardens saved the day and me in July. They just seemed to ask for nothing, which isn’t true of course. I worked steadily in them too before the tour. However, they were ready for harvest, and harvest I did. I still have tons of tomatoes on the vine. I’m going to write another post on the cutting and vegetable gardens as soon as I catch my breath. Anyway, they made me remember why I garden.

Why you ask?

Because I simply must. I’m a writer and a gardener, and I must garden and write if I am to breathe. And, in these trying times, we must all remember to breathe.

Luckily, the ornamental beds and borders, while as wild as western mustangs, are somewhat contained by their formal edges and straight lines. I’m lucky ornamental gardens are forgiving. I just wish the Monarchs I’ve been seeing would get with it and lay some eggs. I’ll bring their caterpillars inside and raise them for a new generation if they do. I have tropical milkweed and perennial Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed, planted in many places–wherever it’s sunny. Oh, and if you live in Oklahoma don’t feel guilty for using tropical milkweed. It’s not going to kill your caterpillars. It dies all the way to the ground each fall so no worries. I’m saving seed this year to grow my own. I like A. curassavica ‘Silky Gold’ better than the orange one. Not being from Oklahoma State University, the University of Tennessee or the University of Texas, my favorite color is not orange.

I do, however, like a soft orange bloom, and some flowers are exquisitely beautiful in various shades of orange. Take agastache for example. Agastache Kudos™ Ambrosia is growing in a container on the deck. I never could grow agastache in my garden. The plants always rotted about Midsummer no matter how I prepared the soil. In a weird moment of buying plants online in a snowstorm last winter, I ordered two agastache plants. When they came, I was horrified and told my friend, Faire from Fairegarden. She calmly suggested I grow them in pots since it worked for her in Tennessee. Faire is a gardening guru in my book so I tried it. When it worked so well, I bought two more. I plan to bring these inside my greenhouse this winter and keep them for next year. I just used good potting soil, but if you’re worried, you could work in some sand too. The hummingbirds and I are very happy.

Agastache Kudos Ambrosia.
One bloom spike of Agastache Kudos™Ambrosia.

Another plant that’s really pleasing the butterflies and me this year is Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’, red false vervain, a Bustani Plant Farm Introduction. Isn’t it beautiful? How about this Pipevine Swallowtail? Be still my heart!

Special thanks to Leslie Kuss of Growing a Garden in Davis, and the Moth and Butterfly Identification Forum on Facebook for their help in identifying this butterfly.

This is why I garden. Happy Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

Tomato season in high gear

Artisan Pink Tiger tomato is tiny, but packs a big punch. Very thin skinned and sweet.

Tomato season is in high gear at Little Cedar. You know we’re calling our property Little Cedar, right? That’s because my sister-in-law, Maria, said our garden reminded her of Big Cedar Lodge when she visited us in spring, and she dubbed our garden “Little Cedar.” We loved the name so much it stuck. In fact, Bill had a sign made for my little she shed out back.

We go to Big Cedar almost every year so this name means a lot to us.

'Honey Drop' tomato from Hudson Valley Seed Co. is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I've ever eaten.
‘Honey Drop’ tomato from Hudson Valley Seed Co. is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I’ve ever eaten. I started this one from seed and have been eating them for a month. These are much sweeter than my former favorite, ‘Sungold.’

But, back to tomato season in my Oklahoma hills, and what a tomato season it is.

Whopper tomatoes in the green. Good eating coming soon.
‘Whopper’ tomatoes in the green. Good eating coming soon. I always grow ‘Whopper’ tomatoes. They aren’t huge, but they have a great acid balance, and you don’t always need a giant tomato on a sandwich although I ate a huge ‘Cherokee Purple’ one on a sandwich today.

I spoke to the Tulsa Perennial Club on vegetable gardening the day before yesterday so I’ve been taking a few photos here and there with my iPhone while I’ve been out working. Vegetable gardens are unforgiving this time of year. If you don’t go out every single day, they expire from hot weather–we’ve been over 100F lately–or the squash bugs arrive without warning and kill your squash plants in a day. Use diatomaceous earth on squash bugs nymphs, but be careful not to get it on blossoms. You don’t want to kill your pollinators. If anyone has any other great organic squash bug killing advice, other than squishing them–I do–please let me know. I told my Tulsa friends that I didn’t have any, but they arrived that night.

This is my two-day harvest from seven raised beds. The new raised beds are 8' x 16' so they are pretty big, but over halfway full of flowers for cutting.
This is my two-day harvest from seven raised beds. The new raised beds are 8′ x 16′ so they are pretty big, but over halfway full of flowers for cutting. Those large tomatoes on top are ‘Cherokee Purple’ which is one of my favorites. It’s often available locally in spring.

Stupid Insect-tards.

You can plant tomatoes now and reap a harvest in September before sunlight lessens. Just be sure to keep everything well watered. We’re having some terribly hot temperatures this week in the 100s°F. When the temperatures soar above 100°F, tomato blossoms just fall off.

Try not to worry. Just keep your plants healthy and water because temperatures will lessen, and you should have time to grow and ripen more fruit. Speaking of ripening, I usually harvest my tomatoes just when they start to turn like the photo below. I know articles tell you to wait, but if I wait, the stink bugs will suck them dry and cause sores on the skin which is just gross. I bring partially ripened tomatoes inside and finish them on my kitchen counter. They still taste delicious and don’t even need the sunshine to ripen. I also don’t refrigerate tomatoes until I must because they don’t taste as good and quit ripening. Any tomato you grow at home tastes 100 times better than one bought in the store.

Partially ripe tomatoes on the vine. I harvested these and brought them indoors to finish ripening.
Partially ripe tomatoes on the vine. I harvested these and brought them indoors to finish ripening.

I started a bunch of seeds in the greenhouse last February, and while I didn’t have time to write about it on the blog, the tomatoes didn’t know. They grew just fine.

My transplants never look as big and bulky as those you buy at the nursery or box store, but they quickly catch up. After transplanting in late April or early May, I watched my plants grow all spring and worried over them. We had very cool temperatures and loads of rain. I planted some tomatoes in the potager in new spots–crop rotation to repel root-knot nematodes–and after the raised beds were built, I planted more out there.


The good folks at Burpee Plants/Burpee Home Gardens sent me several tomatoes and peppers to try. I really appreciate the markers they sent with the plants, along with a very helpful laminated card. Vegetable and flower companies who send out trial plants don’t realize how easy it is to lose tags in the middle of spring planting season. If you receive plants from several companies to trial, as I do, you may not be able to identify the plant later on. I so appreciate Burpee’s extra step. All of the plants showed up super healthy and not stressed for which I was thankful. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the plants they sent me.

When I start seeds, I always choose unique varieties. Then, I run up to my local nurseries and buy my standard favorites like ‘Supersteak,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Rutgers,’ ‘Beefmaster,’ ‘Super Sioux’ and ‘Whopper.’ I may not grow all of these in a particular year. It depends on what I find locally. The ones I start from seed will almost always be weird like ‘Artisan Pink Tiger.’ This elongated cherry tomato has a very complicated taste and such thin skin it is easily bruised. These are the vegetables I like to grow at home, the ones grocery stores don’t carry because of shipping considerations.

Artisan Pink Tiger tomato is tiny, but packs a big punch. Very thin skinned and sweet.
Artisan Pink Tiger tomato is tiny, but packs a big punch. Very thin skinned and sweet.

It’s been a great tomato season so far. One step I made sure to complete was to ferilize the tomatoes again when they started to bloom. In other words, I fertilized their planting holes when I transplanted them and mulched them heavily to stop dirt and diseases from splashing up on the leaves. Then, when they started to bloom about five weeks later, I fertilized them around the drip line with an organic fertilizer like Jobe’s Organics All Purpose fertilizer. If you’d rather, you can buy  Jobe’s Organics Vegetable & Tomato Fertilizer, but I just use the all-purpose one everywhere. I don’t have time to mess with all these distinctions. For my Tulsa friends, this is the fertilizer I was talking about the other night.
I also tied everyone up nice and neat and braced my tomato cages with rebar. It’s how I like to do it. I could build more extensive cages, but I haven’t so far. I like the colored cages, and so many of the determinate and patio type tomatoes do just fine in these as long as I tuck in their canes as they grow. The rest I tie up as needed.

I think that’s all I have this Saturday. How is your tomato season going?